If you’ve seen a picture of Lake Bled, the image has probably stuck in your mind. An impossibly turquoise lake surrounded by mountains and lush forests with a little island that is home to a pretty white church. It is the kind of place that you think you’ll get there and it could not be possibly as lovely as the photos. But it is, a charming fairytale setting.
Lake Bled is located in the northern part of Slovenia, just a stone’s throw away from the Austrian border, and you’ll see some similarities, from the picturesque mountains to the cute Alpine-style buildings dotting the landscape.
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The lake is surrounded by the Julian Alps and was created by glacial and tectonic movement. It is fed by thermal springs and has a maximum depth of about 95 feet. People have lived near the lake for thousands of years and have flocked to it as a vacation spot for a few hundred.
Today the lake is a vibrant and pristine retreat and there’s plenty to keep you busy in Bled and the surrounding area.
Here’s how I recommend spending your time in Lake Bled, whether you are stopping by for a day trip or making Bled your holiday destination for a few days.
Walk the circuit around Lake Bled
Start off with getting to know the lay of the land with a leisurely stroll around the lake.
Lake Bled has a circumference of approximately 6 kilometres and there’s no better way to spend a sunny afternoon exploring around it. It is an easy walk and a great way to see the lake from all angles.
You’ll come across swimming spots and little beaches, row boat and paddle board rentals, fish swimming in the clear water, and plenty of places to get great photos of the lake, island, and surrounding scenery from every angle. Various hiking trails veer off certain points of the lake if you are feeling adventurous.
Explore Bled Castle
Perched high on a cliff above the lake, Bled Castle (Blejski Grad) is worth the hike for the view alone. If you are starting from Bled’s centre near the pletna dock, go counterclockwise around the lake and just past St. Martina Parish Church (Župnijska Cerkev sv. Martina), you’ll see a sign for the trail leading up to the castle (Blejski Grad). It is about 220 steps up to the top but it’s not too strenuous of a walk and the scenery is stunning. You can drive around and park or get a taxi if you can’t walk up. Find out more about getting to the castle here.
Once at the top, you can visit inside the castle grounds, with adult tickets costing €13. The castle’s history dates back to the 11th century. Inside you’ll find plenty of information on its history and that of the surrounding area, including a museum featuring artefacts of ancient civilizations in the region and a 16th-century gothic chapel.
Make sure to fully take in the view of Lake Bled from the castle grounds. We stopped for coffee at the onsite cafe, which as a Londoner was fairly normal prices. There’s also a restaurant where you can have a meal overlooking the lake. You’ll also find a few shops on site, including one selling local honey products. We were sad we couldn’t take any with us as we were travelling with just hand luggage.
Hike Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge is located about 4 kilometres from Bled town centre and is a top attraction in the area. It is easy to see why. Oozing with pristine natural beauty, the gorge was carved by the Radovna River that flows through it over thousands of years. The walk through the gorge is clearly signposted and you’ll usually be walking along a wooden boardwalk.
It is stunning. The water is clear and turquoise, with beautiful waterfalls dotted along the walk. And, despite the other tourists, it is a tranquil place to walk through.
The gorge is part of the Triglav National Park. Because of its natural beauty, is one of the biggest visitor attractions in Slovenia. I won’t try to do it justice by describing how pretty it is. You’ll have to check it out for yourself.
It isn’t huge, just about a mile (1.6km) long and you’ll end at the 13 metres high Šum river waterfall. There are a few paths that go from there. You can either follow it back around (don’t worry, they give you a map). Or you can start to journey back to Bled.
What to know before visiting Vintgar Gorge
You have to book ahead online and pick a timeslot to enter the gorge. Keep in mind timeslots do book up, even in shoulder season. You’ll also have to book parking if you drive there.
You can walk to the gorge if you don’t have a car. It is about an hour walk. But keep in mind there is a long stretch along a single-track road without a footpath. We did this and were fine, just trekking past local farms. But it is probably easiest to take a taxi. If you do, rather than doubling back on yourself, take the path to St. Katherine’s Church and follow the signs back to Bled.
Take a rowboat
Motorised craft are not allowed on Lake Bled to keep it as clean and peaceful as possible. You won’t find speedboats or jet skis zipping about here. Instead, the lake’s traffic is a mix of paddleboards, kayaks, rowboats, swimmers and a traditional boat called pletna.
Renting a rowboat to explore the lake is a popular activity in Bled. You’ll find several spots to rent one along the lake as you venture further from the town centre.
Rent a paddleboard
Lake Bled is the perfect spot for paddleboarding (SUP boarding) for those who already love the sport and for beginners. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know I’m likely to try to get out on a paddleboard whenever I’m near a body of water. Crystal clear, calm waters and lack of motorised craft with a spectacular backdrop was just idyllic and so I couldn’t wait to get out on the lake for some time with my favourite activity.
I went with SupBled, not far from campsite/swim spot Velika Zaka where I paid €10 an hour which I thought was quite a good deal for renting a board. They had plenty available, although you may want to book ahead in peak season. I also liked that, while they had someone on hand to show you what to do if you need it, they also don’t force you to take a quick lesson first.
A couple of hours is plenty for exploring around but you may want to add an hour or two if you plan to use the board to visit the island and do all the activities there.
You can of course bring your own board if you have one as there are various places where you can launch around the lake. But I didn’t bring mine on this trip as I didn’t want to pay for the luggage.
Visit the island
Lake Bled is home to Slovenia’s only lake island. Using one of the methods above, whether by rowboat, pletna or paddleboard/kayak, you can easily reach Bled’s lake island. We got a pletna which cost €15 for an hour and a half round trip.
Pletnas are wooden, flat-bottomed boats with colourful awnings whose design dates back to the 16th century. They are rowed by hand using a centuries-old method by a trained pletnar.
The only catch was it was a little slow that morning and they wait for the boat to fill up a bit before heading off but it was a lovely day and quite relaxing sitting in the bow of the boat. Boats leave from the dock in the town centre near the Park Restaurant and Cafe. There’s also an electric boat that leaves hourly that leaves from the same dock.
There are 99 steps up to the church, Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Mary, on Lake Bled’s island. There’s an old Slovenian tradition that a groom should carry their bride up all the steps to the church, although I couldn’t convince Matt to honour the tradition!
At the top, you can visit the church which is home to the famed wishing bell. Legend has it that when you ring the bell your wish will come true.
We opted not to go inside. €13 seemed a bit steep for a quick look inside and to ring a bell. Instead, we opted to sit down and have ice cream at the top of the steps, followed by a walk around the island.
Go swimming in Lake Bled
We went in mid-September and the water was refreshing and cool but not cold. The lake is fed by thermal springs which means it doesn’t get too cold.
There are a few swimming spots dotted along the banks as you venture from the centre of town. A small beach/campsite/swim spot (Velika Zaka) sits at the opposite end of the lake which is a popular spot. There’s also a lido/aquatic park below the castle (Grajska Beach) although, unlike other spots, you have to pay to enter for the day, but it does have facilities like changing rooms, showers and lockers so we did use it on one of the days.
Ride the summer toboggan
A winter ski slope is transformed into a fun ride in the summer at Straža Bled. You take a chair lift up to the top of the mountain before hopping in the little yellow toboggan and zooming down the track.
I recommend getting the ticket for two runs. I got the feel for it and enjoyed the view on the first run and went for speed on the second. It is a quick run but a lot of fun. We got one run free as we used the Julian Alps card for a discount (see below for more info).
There’s also an adventure park with ropes courses as well as a brief hike to a great viewpoint over the lake and surrounding mountains.
If you go in winter, you can ski down. It’s a small slope and there is equipment rental on site.
Other things to do in Lake Bled if you have time
- Day trip to Lake Bohinj – Slovenia’s largest lake is a great deal quieter and has a completely different vibe than Lake Bled. It is full of natural beauty and is a good day trip spot.
- Day trip to Ljubliana – If Ljubliana isn’t already part of your Slovenia itinerary, give this charming small city a visit. Expect pretty buildings and lots of cafes, another cliff-top castle, and dragon-adorned bridges in this safe and clean capital.
- Adventure sports – Near Bled, you can find places for white water rafting, canyoning, ziplining, and in the winter, skiing
How long should I stay in Lake Bled?
That depends on how much time you have and what type of trip you are after. We were there for 4 full days and it felt perfect. We did a main activity each day and had plenty of time to take things slow, go on walks, and properly enjoy our hotel’s spa and the view from our balcony. It felt like a perfect amount of time. It is a tranquil place and it felt right to use it as a relaxing holiday. Any longer and we probably would have started to run out of things to do and would have looked at nearby day trips or filled our time with more paddleboarding and swimming.
A lot of people visit Bled on a day trip, and yes you can see most things in a day or two. It is an hour from Ljubliana and about 45 mins from the airport. This means you could easily arrive in the morning, see the castle, have a walk around the lake and rent a rowboat for an hour or two before catching the last bus back.
Tips for visiting Lake Bled
How do I get there?
Chances are you are heading to Bled from Ljubliana or Ljubliana Airport.
The bus schedule was a bit tricky to figure out and there were different times depending on where you look online. We missed the last direct bus on a Saturday after facing a few delays coming from Luton Airport. Our choices were either to wait in the thunderstorm for a bus into Ljubliana and then grab another back out to Bled taking about 2.5-3 hours or there was a shuttle for €19 each that would drop us off at our hotel in about 40 minutes. Was it more expensive? Yes. Was it worth just hopping on, sharing it with just one other couple and not worrying about it anymore? Absolutely.
We got the bus from Lake Bled to Ljubliana but I recommend leaving early as the buses do tend to be late.
You can easily get to Bled and around the town without a car but you might choose to rent one if you are there for more than a few days to explore further afield. Vintgar Gorge would have been easier to get to if we had rented a car as well (we walked there and back from Bled).
Where to eat in Lake Bled
Bled didn’t blow my mind when it came to its culinary appeal but you can expect food that I would describe as good quality comfort food. Neighbouring Austria and Italy has resulted in several influences on menus. Think different types of sausages, venison, chicken schnitzel and rich pasta dishes with lots of truffle, and pizzas
Menus tend to be meat-heavy but our favourite meal was from a lovely vegetarian place called Public & Vegan Kitchen Bled. I had the chickpea fritters and they were just incredible. There was also a small selection of local craft beers that were excellent.
I’d also recommend tucking into some sandwiches from Market by the Lake. We also had a great meal full of comfort food from Old Cellar Bled. Admittedly, we also filled up loads on breakfast from our hotel, Hotel Lovec which had a really nice spread for a buffet breakfast.
Bled Cake (Blejska kremšnita) is a must-try when visiting. The cake is so synonymous with the area that it has been given protected designation of origin status which means this exact recipe can be found nowhere else in the world. Light-as-air custard is topped with billowy vanilla cream, sandwiched between thin layers of flaky pastry and topped with lashings of icing sugar.
We ate Bled Cake twice. Once at Market by the Lake and once from Panorama where we paired it with a cream cake iced coffee. I don’t recommend doing this – both were delicious but the two together were way too much cream! I didn’t notice any difference between the two so I don’t think it matters where you try it. But just do it, especially if you have a sweet tooth.
Where to stay
Bled has plenty of boutique hotels to choose from, several of which have spas for a fully relaxing experience. We chose Hotel Lovec which had a view of the lake, spa, and restaurant and we enjoyed it. It was fairly affordable compared to a few others and was located right in the centre of town.
There are also a few hostels in the area for budget-friendly travel.
When should I visit?
We visited in mid-September. The weather was sunny and in the mid-twenties celsius and the lake was refreshing but perfectly swimmable.
A friend that visited in March told me that the lake isn’t as vibrantly turquoise in winter and spring. Summers can be crowded and quite warm, even with the waters of the lake to cool off in, so I felt like early autumn was the optimum time to visit.
The Julian Alps card
As mentioned, some activities are discounted with a card called the Julian Alps card which is free if you are staying at certain hotels in the region for three nights or more. You can find out more about it here.
Slovenia is an extremely clean and very safe country nestled between Austria, Italy and Croatia. The currency is the Euro and I would say it is a bit cheaper to travel than its neighbours. Expect things to be slightly more expensive in Lake Bled and other major tourist destinations. Although, as Londoners, we barely noticed. The official language is Slovene but you will have no issues with speaking English. Although as I always say, it is very polite to learn a few words of greeting before you go.